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Sloane Stephens says she was caught off guard by Serena Williams controversy

Sloane Stephens Sloane Stephens won her first-round match at the Italian Open on Tuesday. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

ROME -- Sloane Stephens said Tuesday that she never expected her controversial comments about Serena Williams to be printed.

In the May 13 issue of ESPN The Magazine, Stephens questioned Williams' authenticity and dispelled the idea that the two were close. But Stephens, 20, said she was under the impression that she was speaking off the record to author Marin Cogan.

"We were eating pizza!" Stephens said, emphasizing that the casual context of her meeting with the reporter made her believe that the late-March interview in Florida had yet to begin. "I understood the fact that those things weren't going to be written in the article and I was just saying whatever. The person who wrote it just kind of took that and ran with it. That's what they're going to do.

"I'm really disappointed in the lady who wrote it," Stephens said after defeating Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Italian Open. "It wasn't a good reflection and it's not what I meant. That's why I had to talk to Serena about it because it was not good at all."

Stephens spoke with the 31-year-old Williams last week in Madrid and said the face-to-face chat went well.

"We moved on. We're past it. I think we're OK," Stephens said.

Williams declined to discuss her conversation with Stephens.

"It's between us and I think it's just best kept that way," Williams said Tuesday after beating Laura Robson 6-2, 6-2 in her opening match at the Italian Open.

Serena talks career, pop culture and more

ESPN The Magazine's Cogan said it was clear that Stephens knew she was on the record and was being recorded while they had lunch.

"When I sat down with Sloane and her mother at the pizza place, I asked -- as I always do with my interview subjects -- 'Do you mind if I record this? I just want to make sure I don't miss any quotes.' And she said she didn't mind," Cogan said via e-mail. "After the tape recorder started rolling, we had lunch and I conducted the interview. She discussed Serena throughout the lunch (not before). I'm certain she knew she was being recorded, because at one point a phone call interrupted the interview, and she was kind enough to alert me that the phone call had interrupted the recording on my iPhone.

"At no point during our time together or afterward did Sloane say anything was off the record; nor did she ever express any confusion at any point about the interview. Personally, I appreciated that she was so refreshingly honest in it."

In the article, Stephens blasted Williams for being cold to her after the younger American won their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open in January.

"She's not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia," Stephens told Cogan. "And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter."

At that point, Cogan reported that Stephens' mother, Sybil, tried to slow her daughter down. But Sloane continued: "Like, seriously. People should know. They think she's so friendly and she's so this and she's so that -- no, that's not reality! You don't unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?"

Stephens said Tuesday that she hasn't read the article and doesn't plan to. She heard about what was in the story, which sparked criticism of Stephens among some fans on social media and message boards.

"People were writing things like, 'Sloane's going to get beat up in the locker room,'" Stephens said. "I mean, not true. I don't think anybody [in the locker room] cares. The only person that matters is Serena and we're all good."

Asked how this incident will affect her, Stephens said: "The article coming out, it makes you kind of want to be a robot and say just all the good things and not ever say anything bad. But that's just not the real world. So you just have to say what you feel. I think definitely people are going to write things that aren't true and hurtful and things like that, but that's what sells magazines and that's what people like to read. I definitely don't want to be a robot, but I'm going to find a way to stay positive, I guess."

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